Why read blogs?

November 22, 2004 at 11:48 pm | In yulelogStories | 9 Comments

Frank Paynter sent around an email to ask, “why do you blog?” It wasn’t a personal question since his query went to a number of people, but all the same I didn’t like being asked just now. Because I often find so little satisfaction in using this format, I am forever on the verge of quitting blogging. I like writing, I like “thinking out loud” (such as it is), I like making a bricolage-type portrait of my quirky interests, but there are too many days when I feel that there’s nothing I want from “the community,” and since I don’t feel part of a blogging community, I would prefer not to be considered a blogger at all. (After all, it was Frank who wrote, “There are half a dozen men in Canada whose blogs I read, whose writing interests me,” and when I read that, I sensed a “vision” of community being illuminated …which wasn’t mine.) I am not keeping a web-log because of some particular care I have about the web. I love the fact that I can get access to information at fantabulous speed through the internet, I love that almost all of it is free, and I love that it can keep me connected to news (and gossip) from around the world.

But I don’t web-log because I love the web. I don’t understand much of the technology that web-based tinkering and creation depends on, just as I don’t understand car engines. I do drive, however; avidly in fact. But my car — and the web — isn’t a fetish in my world: I do not love my car. I am intrigued by the challenge to property rights that information technology introduces to our collective actions here, but that’s still not enough to build a community as far as I’m concerned. Furthermore, if someone paid me to write articles in either this medium or in another, I would stop web-logging. All I really care about, when push comes to shove, is writing. I write on the web simply because it’s free and it’s easier than finding someone who’ll pay me to write somewhere else (though I wouldn’t mind the latter at all). Nor am I keeping a log, because what I’m doing is not some sort of account. It’s not a diary, it’s not a ship’s log (hello, Star Trek?), it’s not daily. It’s my amateur (as in Latin for “love”) attempt at discourse (or should I say monologue?). Again, if I had a job as a journalist, columnist, editorialist, whatever, I’d happily trade in the “blog.” I don’t love the web (except as a tool to get from A to B, sort of like my car), I don’t love public diaries. This is not a diary, it is not a log. Except for hyperlinks (which I do love — for example, finding something in an old book, quoting from it, but hyperlinking some key words: fantastic!), this what’s-it could be elsewhere, too.

I thought it might be interesting to turn the question around and ask, “why do you read blogs?” Here, too, some key differences between me and real bloggers could be defined. There are two bloggers, both women, whose pages I visit daily, Maria and Shelley. I read them for several reasons, firstly because they have intelligent things to say, secondly how they say those smart things. The postings are sometimes uneven — naturally — but they typically offer a fresh viewing angle, an insight, a comment on something either observed or experienced directly, or on something read elsewhere. It’s food for thought, in other words. Those two I read daily. But that’s it. There are many other women writing online whose writing I would doubtlessly find just as interesting, but I simply don’t have enough time or enough love to shower on more than those two. I have heard, however, that real bloggers read tens if not hundreds of blogs daily. They use various aggregator tools to do this — they are in effect the taxi drivers of the web. What I mean is, I like to drive, but not that much, thank you. I tried reading lots of blogs for a while. It was depressing. I didn’t like getting caught up in so much stuff, I didn’t like being exposed to so much unevenness. Everyone’s uneven lots of the time, but blogs are consistently uneven, and by the law of statistics and probability, you will be reading many more “lows” simply by reading more blogs. In non-blog traditional media, you’re getting a filtered version of writing. Supposedly (in theory), this eliminates the “lows” (at least that’s the claim). If you’re a middle-brow New Yorker magazine type junkie, you’ll get a consistent level of mid- to high-range pieces, and it’s up to you if you want to stuff yourself to the gills with that sort of material. There’s a lot of it out there, so you can easily stuff away for days on end. But I couldn’t do it, not with the New Yorker, not with anything. I’m not into stuffing, I’m quite delicate, and I especially get nauseated by too many little green snotballs or too much buzzing or boing-ing or …anything. And the comments! They’re the worst. I don’t like too much, regardless of what too much is. I find it nauseating that so-called A-listers or other important people try to convince not only themselves but others that their quantitative “popularity” somehow obviates the inferior quality of what they write. Surely I can’t be the only one to notice that a lot of what passes for popular blogging is simply terrible to read, shitty from a (brain-nourishing) quality/ content perspective? Unless, of course, you love the web (the technology) the way some people love car engines, and you’re bedazzled. Those of us who like to drive, but who don’t aspire to become taxi drivers or mechanics, don’t understand why hacks think that following links equates with synthesis or analysis, or why tinkerers think they’re worthwhile writers just because their garage is full of customers.

In my mind, I’m not a customer, except for brief, defined moments of time. And then I leave.

“Why do you read blogs?” I have no idea who reads my online writing, but I know it’s not a community. Most readers seem to come here because of some eccentric google searches: they are anonymous, they stop by once, perhaps they come back again if something stimulated them enough, and then they leave. Unlike one-trick ponies, which can be branded and sold to customers, this is neither a product nor a brand, after all. That’s what makes ideas different from stuff. But you’re the reader — you have to decide if what you want is to stuff yourself or if you want to leave.

I always want to leave, and then I come back occasionally. Last week was nearly entirely made of up leavings; I’m still reluctant to come back now, which is probably why I’m yelling at you. My leaving started by my visiting a wider range of blogs and leaving comments, for example here and here and even here. I started to notice a pattern — disconnecting, leaving, writing myself out of my space and going somewhere else. Last week it sort of peaked, coinciding with real-life encounters that made me nearly crazy. For example, last Thursday I met someone in real time and space who read my blog, a nerve-wracking experience even on a good day. It’s especially unnerving if the person likes the site, which this one did, because it always instills in me an evil sense of hope that perhaps there’s some point to all this. Of course there isn’t, and of course the let-down inevitably follows. My descent was deepened when I spent the entire next day (Friday) cleaning the house, scrubbing toilets so that we could finally have at least one weekend off together, as a family, vs spending all day Saturday arguing over who would do what, and doing it churlishly. I wondered what my former house-cleaner of 12 years employ, who owns a vacation home in Florida, in addition to the house she owns in Hamilton-Wenham Massachusetts, was going to be up to for Thanksgiving.

“Why do I blog?” Perhaps because inbetween cleaning my own toilets these days, I don’t have enough time left over for real work? At least I don’t have a second (vacation) home — its absence at least makes for fewer toilets to clean overall.

By late afternoon, I was done. Done in, actually. Before ferrying the kids to their evening fencing class after an early dinner, I took my dog for a walk along Dallas Road. The sun was setting and it was heartbreakingly beautiful out there. Two very large, beefy men in shorts — they might have been father and son — stopped by one of the doggie fountains with their six chihuahuas and their one lab-type mutt to watch the sun sink over the Strait behind the Sooke Hills. Dozens of dogs frolicking with their after-work humans were tearing the field to shreds, chasing frisbees and balls and each other. But for me it was time to check the clock, punch the slot, get back home, feed the kids, hit the road, get them off to class. The next day, Saturday, there was still a bit of yardwork to do, followed by the obligatory outing with the dog. But finally (due to my Friday labours), a break for the adults: an hour-long outing to a bookstore (not Munro’s this time, but Chapters). I felt, however, that I was well and truly plunging into the dark pit of misanthropy by now because everything felt too surreal in a bad way. I felt this intense allergy to people, which the bookstore only exacerbated since it was too full of stuff. So many books… the displays began to look like the blogosphere. I made the mistake of browsing along the tables on my way to the magazine section (where the husband indulged in paging through magazines devoted to wristwatches — the diversity of fetishism never ceases to amaze me). Book covers that copied the look of Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait (Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Queen I think it’s called) dominated the fantasy display aimed at, according to the sign, 8-12 year-olds, and this was followed immediately by a table given over to more topical and political non-fiction. Unfortunately, I casually picked up a book called White Gold, which tells “The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa’s One Million European Slaves,” and I made the mistake of opening it. My mind already set on the general perfidy and boundless stupidity of people, I was not happy to see illustrations of various tortures, including the bastinade (which, if you google it, links to sex sites, but it was shown here as putting a man in a kind of stocks and then beating the soles of his feet until they bled). Shut the book immediately, looked up at the magazine shelves in front of me, and saw headlines declaring the importance of certain shades of lipstick.

I felt sick. Moved along the aisles, saw Joyce Carol Oates on the cover of Moment Magazine, looking remarkably like a cousin of Frida’s, or of Tamora’s queen, and paged through an article on Jews in Germany. Something about, among other things, a Purim play in Yiddish being performed by non-Jewish Germans in Germany for lack of German Jews. By now my head was spinning, I wanted to leave.

That’s when I saw an article title on a cover, and knew that it would redeem the day for me: Quitting the Paint Factory; on the virtues of idleness [new link here] by Mark Slouka, in the current (Nov. 2004) issue of Harper’s Magazine. I knew that something truly strange and magical was afoot here, since I had just finished a story (a memoir) in which my father’s paint factory figured heavily. It wasn’t really a factory, more a factorylette in an outbuilding, and he went massively bankrupt on borrowed money within a year or two, which led in turn to our emigrating to Canada when I was a very young child — but the title was like my cellphone ringing with Mr. Slouka at the other end. “Hello? Hello? Yes, I’m here!” Not only that, but “virtues of idleness”?? Bliss, sheer bliss. How many times have I written on this site about the virtues of idleness, about how I hate the Nazi ethic of “work makes you free,” the whole filthy lie of it? And how many times have I written about my despair that American society in particular is beholden to this brand of fascist infiltration? How we homeschool, for example, because we don’t believe that work makes you free? And here was an article promising exactly my argument in Harper’s Magazine. Folks, I felt that I was the author — I was bursting with pride! But it gets better. Mark Slouka has written a really smart piece here, and I’m grateful that there’s a (presumably pirated) version online (there’s that “property rights extended to ideas” issue again…). Read it. The ending amazed me. Read it.

Meanwhile, on the blogs, people (mostly leftists) are debating The Rebel Sell in a way that again makes me despair. (Except read Heath’s response today on the 22nd on this page, and especially read the blog thread on This Magazine. For the most part, the critics just don’t get it, though, and it bothers me a lot because they want to bring moral “values” to the table, which is just what Bush and bin Laden are doing in their domains. Fuck “moral” values for the most part. Your morals aren’t my morals.)

And so I enter, and sometimes I leave again, quickly. Maybe more later, if I come back. For now, it’s telling that even this didn’t cheer me up:

Virginia Woolf: Orlando. You are a challenge, for
outer events, the outside world, the time etc.
play no importance to you. Your focus is in
writing, in gender issues, and inside your own
head. Self-analysis and exploration of yourself
as well as the outer world hold great
importance to you.

Which literature classic are you?
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